A House of One's Own:

Elizabeth Bishop in Key West


Above: Elizabeth Bishop, likely in Key West. Below: Bishop and Louise Crane.

Selected poem from my chapbook in progress, “Miss B. Spends Time in K.W.”:


So maybe it’s been twenty-five years
or so sauntering by
to spy what’s old, what’s new
and this evening for a change
actually some people
whose voices reach the street out here.
A woman takes the porch
her back to the street
to face someone unseen
near an unrevealing lit window.
Dawdling by, I speed up
not to be noticed counting
stacked old construction rods
in the yard, the white
bicycle, random boards, that
tin boat turned on its side
and, just-noticed, a large wire reindeer
wrapped in greenery—real or plastic?
So lives go on.

624 White Street XIII
May 2014
Malcolm Willison

R: Bishop sunning on steps, presumably in Key West.

This play developed as a way to better understand a currently preeminent U.S. poet. Twenty-five years ago, just around the corner from where I stay in Key West, is the house Bishop had bought and lived in sixty years earlier. I craned my neck every time I passed the house, partly hidden in greenery, to get a sense of how and why Bishop had lived there, with whom, doing what, and why she left.
— M.W.

Bishop's former home at 624 White Street in Key West.

Excerpts from the play, all in Bishop’s voice:

SCENE 1:  “Key West would be such a nice town to stay in…. it has what I need: ‘peace and quiet’.” 

SCENE 2:  “You really do like this beautiful house, don’t you, Louise?... Maybe I’ll put in some Traveler’s Palms out front?” 

SCENE 3:  “Marianne Moore … got me to leave the capitals off the first word of each line, so I feel very ‘Advanced.’  My work goes as slowly as ever. … The words in my head are just like icebergs or rocks, or awkwardly-placed furniture.  I feel if I could just joggle them around long enough, maybe something electrical might arrange them.” 

“If I can get enough writing done … I can face my New York friends.”    

SCENE 4:  “Marjorie, you are truly wonderful to invite me to stay with you.  … I simply can’t work at my house. …  And my friends are so sick of my incoherent late night calls. …   

SCENE 5:  “I have finally scraped together enough…to buy Louise’s share of the house. … I do love it, but it is such a nuisance. …  Really I must keep traveling.” 

SCENE 6:  “Oh, Marjorie, … I know how strongly you feel … I should not come back to Key West. …  But I just couldn’t stay on in New York…. I have decided to sell the…house.  I’ll finally…travel…where I can work.  … You won’t come with me… . I do hate to sell that house of mine:  I’ve always loved it, whatever its problems, and my own.  … I need … a quiet place, with … lots less alcohol. 

But I’ll keep traveling—why not South America to visit … that fascinating woman I met … in New York.  Anyway, I must keep going, north or south, looking for a house in which to write, and live, and even love.”

L: Marianne Moore, Bishop's mentor

R: Marjorie Carr Stevens, Bishop's companion after Louise